#ColoradoRiver: Reboot in the works for #drought contingency plans #COriver

Lake Mead viewed from Arizona.

From KJZZ.org (Bret Jaspers):

Time to reboot

In a joint interview, Tom Buschatzke, the director of Arizona’s Department of Water Resources, and Ted Cooke, the general manager of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, said they have been talking for the past several weeks.

Federal officials will visit Tempe next week for a briefing on the Colorado River. The event features a keynote speech from U.S. Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, who in late May urged the Lower Basin to finish DCP.

“On the one hand, I don’t want to say that the only reason that Tom and I are [embarking on] this initiative is because we’ve been pressured to do so by folks,” Cooke said of the renewed effort to finish DCP. “On the other hand, I don’t want to say it’s a complete coincidence of timing.”

Having Burman kick off a public process will serve to remind people, Buschatzke said, that Arizona has been better off when it avoid lawsuits. “When the state’s moved with the federal government into that paradigm, away from ‘let’s have a bunch of big fights and litigation,’ we better controlled our own destiny,” he said.

The rest of the basin looks on

Fights and litigation would only delay a coordinated response to continued high temperatures and slipping water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell.

“The situation in Arizona is a topic of a lot of discussion in the upper basin,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water.

He said Arizona’s internal conflict has led to political problems in Colorado.

“It puts pressure on Denver Water as a municipal utility, taking water out of the Colorado River, and it exacerbates historic animosities and relationships between Western Colorado and Denver Water,” Lochhead said.

Lochhead sent a letter to the Central Arizona Project in April threatening to pull out of a program to conserve water unless the lower basin made real progress on its plan.

Shortage is so imminent, California has even agreed to take reductions — something the current rules don’t require it to do.

“And you have to ask yourself, given the position that you are in, why would you let that opportunity go by?” said Pat Mulroy, a longtime water leader in Nevada who is now at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

Inside Arizona

But before it can sign a Lower Basin plan, Arizona needs its own internal deal.

One sticky subject is what to do about farmers in central Arizona, who would take a big hit under the current rules.

“How do we find a way to make things less painful for them? Not completely painless, but less painful,” Cooke said.

Another big issue is determining who gets to decide when certain conserved water stays on Lake Mead

It’s a major question that Buschatzke said was still “under discussion.”

“We will work that out,” Cooke said.

To get to “yes,” Buschatzke and Cooke agreed they’ll have to avoid letting side issues divert the talks.

Buschatzke said his task is “to find a collective way to create a package where everyone is better off with the package, even though there might be individual pieces of that package that they might not particularly like 100 percent.”

By rebooting negotiations, Arizona gets another chance at writing something it can live with.

Bret Jaspers reports for KJZZ in Phoenix. This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a new multimedia collaboration between public radio and TV stations in the West, and part of a project covering the Colorado River produced by KUNC in northern Colorado.

#ColoradoRiver: “We’re in uncharted territory” — @8thGenCA #COriver

Much of the water that leaves Colorado bound for Lake Powell passes through Westwater Canyon, An ongoing study suggests that in the face of a severe drought, not enough water is left in the Colorado River basin to keep Lake Powell high enough, or Westwater wet enough. Photo credit Brent Gardner-Smith.

From InkStain (John Fleck):

Not so coincidental, really. [Jeffrey] Kightlinger and I converged with other Colorado River folks on Santa Fe for an Upper Colorado River Commission meeting this week. A bunch of side meetings are also underway to, in the words of one of the convergents, “try to jump start” the stalled Drought Contingency Plan discussions.

Kightlinger’s right about the “uncharted territory” thing. The DCP is an effort to cobble together a map of the water management terrain ahead as we’re speeding toward – well, speeding toward something that we’re not quite sure what it is but it’s probably really bad.

My main reason for tagging along to the Santa Fe meetings is the chance for some “side meeting” time with Eric Kuhn, my collaborator on a new book that is looking closely at how we got here. In particular, we’re looking at the “charts” (to borrow Kightlinger’s metaphor) that we did make beginning with the 1922 Colorado River Compact – the rules guiding how we would develop the river’s water, and our hydrologic understanding that was used to draw them. The reason this is so “uncharted” is because we (they?) didn’t do a good job at all of contemplating the “what if” scenario of river less than their rosy planning assumptions of a booming Colorado River with surpluses for all.

In fact, the framers did make a roadmap of sorts, with the Colorado River Compact’s long forgotten article III(f):

(f) Further equitable apportionment of the beneficial uses of the waters of the Colorado River System unapportioned by paragraphs (a), (b), and (c) may be made in the manner provided in paragraph (g) at any time after October first, 1963, if and when either Basin shall have reached its total beneficial consumptive use as set out in paragraphs (a) and (b).

So bad were their maps at the time that they actually thought there was not only plenty of water for full development of the farms and cities we now see, but that they would have to reconvene in 1963 to parcel out an additional allocation of more water!

By 1963, there was not only no discussion of a surplus, but active discussion of how to cope with the fact that there wasn’t enough water for even the basic allocations laid out in the compact. And yet, here we are today, 50 years later (and a nearly century after the compact was signed), still with no chart.

#ColoradoRiver: Lower Basin folks hope to solve the #Drought Contingency Plan conundrum #COriver

Colorado River Basin. Graphic credit: Water Education Colorado

From The Arizona Daily Star (Tony Davis):

The hope is that this will lead to approval by year’s end of a proposed Drought Contingency Plan for the Lower Basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California, to conserve more water now to prevent catastrophic declines at Lake Mead later.

At stake is the future of your drinking water supply — the CAP’s canals bring river water to Phoenix and Tucson — and that of the 40 million people in seven states and Mexico who also depend on the Colorado River for water.

Here are six things to know about this future:

1. President Trump has called concerns about human-caused climate change bad science. But out West, his Bureau of Reclamation officials are saying the seven basin states must act to avert a crisis on the Colorado that many scientists have traced to climate change…

2. CAP officials are concerned that conserving “too much” water in Lake Mead could trigger a premature shortage in water deliveries first for Arizona farms, and later for Phoenix and Tucson’s drinking water. Others say that isn’t valid…

3. Without a drought plan, the bad tidings that many fear will befall Lake Mead in the distant future could arrive much sooner…

4. The drought’s additional threat to Lake Powell could threaten Western power production as well as Lake Mead, which supplies water to Arizona…

5. Arizona’s water agencies are making nice now, and a top CAP official sounds almost contrite. But approval of a drought plan remains uncertain…

6. The drought plan is only a band-aid, but putting an end to the fighting is considered essential.

#ColoradoRiver solutions #COriver

On the Colorado River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Ken Mirr):

Under the Compact, the Upper Basin States are obligated to deliver 7.5 million acre feet (maf) of water downstream to the thirsty Lower Basin states. Unfortunately, this requirement was derived from faulty baseline data as the rainfall patterns that occurred in the years prior were abnormally high and the flows were vastly overestimated. Delivery of this amount of water will be further impacted by warming climate projections that indicate that the region will become drier in the long-term, and we may be in an era of steadily declining river flows along the Colorado. To make matters worse, demand in all of the basin states like Colorado are increasing as populations in the area continue to grow, further stressing the already over-allocated river.

These devastating impacts are evident in the water storage levels within the river’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which are measured in order to determine if the Compact obligations are being met. Recently the reservoir levels have dropped to their lowest levels since 1937 and have shrunk to less than half their capacity. Until now, the system has worked, but if the Upper Basin states fail to deliver the mandatory volume of water to the reservoirs then the Lower Basin states could make a “Compact call” forcing the Upper Basin to curtail use of post-1922 water rights from the Colorado. That means Colorado’s growing population, amidst a warming and drier climate, will be forced to use less water so Lower Basin states can receive their legally obligated share.

To address diminishing flows and greater demand for the water, agricultural producers in Colorado’s west slope are participating in a voluntary pilot program that compensates them for temporarily fallowing their crops and letting the water run down the river.

In 2014, facing declining levels in lakes Mead and Powell, the Upper Colorado River Commission (UCRC), the Bureau of Reclamation and four water providers piloted a program in the Upper Basin to test water conservation strategies that could be part of a drought contingency plan. The goal of the Colorado River System Conservation Pilot Program (SCPP) was to demonstrate the viability of proactive, cooperative and voluntary compensated means to reduce the risk of reaching critical reservoir levels needed to protect the Compact entitlements. The program allows farmer and ranchers to voluntarily and temporarily let water run down the river and forego the use of their water to irrigate fields in exchange for compensation. The SCPP also reduces “buy and dry” scenarios where struggling farmers are bought out so developers can have access to their water for neighborhoods or transfer their water to municipalities.

A shining example is the 9,177-acre Porcupine Ridge Ranch in Routt County, Colorado and the latest to take advantage of the UCRC’s program by voluntarily reducing consumptive use of its water rights and fallowing 1,941 acres of their irrigated hay fields, or nearly twenty percent of their ranch. In exchange, the ranch will receive up to $421,650, in addition to the current cattle and hunting leases that remain operative alongside the water fallowing. This is one of the largest awards given to a single property in Colorado and outlines a model of what’s to come, if ranchers and farmers take advantage of the opportunity while they can.

As the Compact nears its 100th birthday, policymakers and landowners alike need to take an honest and accurate view at rainfall rates amidst a warming and migrating population to rebalance water needs and who gets what (and why.) The SCPP is a start in the right direction as it addresses water supply shortages and provides a possible hedge against potential future Compact calls. It also benefits agricultural producers by creating a potential income source by funding voluntary conservation measures while also avoiding buy and dry measures that separate their water from the land.

“We need action” — Brenda Burman #ColoradoRiver #COriver #drought #aridification

From The Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean):

In a pointed message Wednesday, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said drought and low flows continue on the Colorado with no end in sight, so it’s up to those who rely on the river to stave off a coming crisis.

“We need action and we need it now. We can’t afford to wait for a crisis before we implement drought contingency plans,” Burman in a written statement. “I’m calling on the Colorado River basin states to put real — and effective — drought contingency plans in place before the end of this year.”

The bureau’s latest projections call for the river to see just 42 percent of its average flow between now and July due to record-low snowpack that has already melted away in parts of the basin.

Federal forecasters now say there is a 52 percent chance that Lake Mead will decline into shortage conditions by 2020. That would force Nevada and Arizona to cut their river use for the first time under shortage rules adopted in 2007.

Nevada, Arizona and California have been working on a plan since 2015 to keep Lake Mead out of shortage by voluntarily leaving more water in the reservoir, but the talks have stalled in Arizona and California, where water users are arguing over how to share the necessary cuts.

Then last month, a war of words broke out among the seven states that share the Colorado after Arizona’s largest water utility revealed a controversial strategy to keep water levels in Lake Mead high enough to avoid any reduction in its share but low enough to require upper-river users to send more water downstream to the lake.

The Central Arizona Project, which supplies water to about 5 million people in Phoenix and Tucson, has since issued a statement saying it “regrets using language and representations that were insensitive” to other river users.
Officials for the utility promised “a more respectful and transparent dialogue in the future” and said they would do their part to finish the drought contingency plan.

The surface of Lake Mead has dropped by more than 130 feet since 2000, when the current drought descended on the mountains that feed the Colorado. According to the bureau, the river basin is in the midst of the driest 19-year period on record and one of the worst drought cycles of the past 1,200 years.

“This ongoing drought is a serious situation, and Mother Nature does not care about our politics or our schedules,” said John Entsminger, the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s general manager and one of several top water officials who signed on to Burman’s call to action. “We have a duty to get back to the table and finish the drought contingency plan to protect the people and the environment that rely upon the Colorado River.”

“Eagle River Valley State of the River Meeting ” recap

In 1922, Federal and State representatives met for the Colorado River Compact Commission in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Among the attendees were Arthur P. Davis, Director of Reclamation Service, and Herbert Hoover, who at the time, was the Secretary of Commerce. Photo taken November 24, 1922. USBR photo.

From The Vail Daily (Scott Miller):

At an Eagle River Valley State of the River Meeting held at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards on Wednesday, May 9, Colorado River District Director Andy Mueller talked about the potential impacts of curtailment. The district, funded by a small property tax levy, includes 15 counties that fall into the Colorado River watershed.

Mueller said under current state water law, the burden could fall most heavily on municipal and industrial water users on the Western Slope and Front Range.

That’s because state water law operates on a “first in time, first in line” system. That means agricultural users on the Western Slope, many of whom have held their water rights since before 1922, have priority over other users.

But those other users include the state’s main population centers, including Denver, Aurora and Colorado Springs. Mueller said taking water from politically powerful areas could create “chaos” in the state.

“It’s not realistic” to curtail home water taps and fire hydrants, Mueller said.

Again, a curtailment order has never been issued. And, Mueller said, the current prospects of such an order, even during the present prolonged drought cycle in the west, is only about 25 to 30 percent.

But, he said, the risks to upper basin states are enormous.

That’s why state and federal agencies are working on planning for drought.

Brent Newman, of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said that planning includes researching ways to manage water demand and continued cloud seeding to boost winter snowfall.

Demand management is the state’s “last line of defense,” Newman said, but it has to be evaluated.

The ultimate goal is avoiding a drop in Lake Powell water levels that makes it impossible to spin the hydroelectric generators at Glen Canyon Dam.

Newman said if that day comes, everything from streamflows to Lake Mead to income from the power produced would be affected. Electricity prices would rise, Newman said, and the federal Bureau of Reclamation would lose income that’s used to pay for existing and future water projects, as well as fish-recovery and other environmental efforts. The impact spans the continent “from Jackson Hole to Tijuana,” Newman said.

The clock is already ticking on drought contingency planning. Newman said a 2007 agreement based on the original compact expires in 2026, with the states set to re-convene starting in 2020.

And, Newman said, it’s not just upper basin states that are planning. Lower basin states are also looking at voluntary reductions in water use, he said. A draft of that plan cuts 1.1 million acre-feet per year in use.

“There are a lot of opportunities and challenges,” Newman said. “We need to ensure users aren’t being harmed.” And, he added, “a lot needs to be investigated before implementing anything.”

Aaron Million’s proposed project and the #ColoradoRiver #COriver

The blues. On the Green River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

“It’s a plumbing project,” Million said. “We’re just looking at a small piece of the surpluses to bring new water supplies over.”

But others say it isn’t so simple; it’s not clear that there actually is extra water. More than 30 protests have been filed with the Utah Division of Water Rights. Many of these come from organizations that think Million’s team is skirting some major issues.

“What you’re doing is putting everyone at great risk,” said Andy Mueller, executive director of the Colorado River District, which is tasked with safeguarding Colorado’s water supply. Much of that comes from the Colorado River Basin.

That’s a big, complex system that feeds 40 million people across seven states and part of Mexico. The Green River is part of that; it connects to the Colorado River in Utah. So when you pull water from the Green, it affects a delicate balance that has been in the works for nearly a century.

The Colorado River Compact

In 1922, seven states signed the Colorado River Compact, a legally binding agreement. The four upper basin states — Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico — agreed to let a set amount of water flow downriver into the lower basin, comprised of Arizona, Nevada and California.

But it’s really dry in these states and climate change means there’s even less water in the river. So when new players like Million try to jump in the game, it adds some real tension.

In the worst-case scenario — a serious, long-term drought — the lower basin states can cash in on that agreement, the so-called compact call.

As Zane Kessler with the Colorado River District explained, we’ve never been through that before, but he thinks a proposal this big would push us closer to the edge.

“We don’t know what’s on the other side of that cliff, because we’ve never been through it,” Kessler said. “We do know that it could cause chaos on a number of different levels, and that’s the biggest concern for a lot of us.”

But Million isn’t too concerned about a compact call. He’s said basically it’s an empty threat, and he points blame for any shortages at the lower basin states, saying they use more than their share. Plus, he said, this water is needed right here in Colorado.

“We shouldn’t let the water go to the lower basin when we are faced with the impacts we are on the upper basin,” Million said.

The River District thinks he’s over-simplifying, because it’s actually not totally clear how much water Colorado has left to claim. Mueller explained that recent studies have shown the state is probably already using its full share.

“We think that we are at a point where we no longer have water to develop in the state of Colorado in the Colorado river system,” Mueller said.

He said the key to managing water in this complex system is working together; it’s what has worked so far.

“The entire river system is short of water, and we’re all watching this very careful balance,” he said. “That’s the biggest concern, I think, is that [Million is] going around this developed consensus in our state.”

The consensus surrounds all kinds of water users, concerning everything from how to conserve water in cities to how to protect fish. Bart Miller is with Western Resource Advocates, which opposes Million’s project on environmental grounds.

“The Green River is really a stronghold, has been a stronghold, for some of these endangered fish, and so it’s a place that I think a lot of folks are concerned about the impacts of a large quantity of water being taken out,” he said.

Plus, Miller said, it’s not clear how exactly the diverted water will be used and that breaks the anti-speculation rules in water law.

Million has said the water would be used for hydropower, irrigating agricultural lands and for municipal uses, like drinking water. But he hasn’t said specifically who would use it in those ways…

“There aren’t any identified users of the water,” he said. “And in both Utah and Colorado, speculation — developing water just so you can have it — is highly discouraged.”

That could set the foundation of a legal fight. For now, it’s up to the Utah Division of Water Rights to decide if the project moves forward.